Hundreds of Thousands Chinese Stranded as Flooding Worsens

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CHARLES HUTZLER Associated Press Writer

BEIJING (AP) - Rain pushed flood waters higher today across southern China, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded and prompting officials to warn of worse to come.

In the southern region of Guangxi, people fled into the mountains to escape flood waters that reached the fourth floor of buildings in some cities, said Marcel Roux of the international aid group Doctors Without Borders.

"It is a catastrophic situation everywhere. Everything has been destroyed, small factories, crops," Roux said. "They have lost everything."

Since late June, seasonal rains have swelled the Yangtze River, China's longest, and its tributaries, killing at least 716 people in nine provinces and regions in the southern half of the country.

Floods have wiped out 2.5 million acres in crops, destroyed 810,000 buildings and caused nearly $4.8 billion in economic losses, according to the Civil Affairs Ministry.

Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin urged military and civilian officials to spare no effort in saving lives and property and in repairing damaged factories and fields, state-run media reported today.

"The disaster situation is likely to become worse within a week as water levels have risen above critical levels in all sections of the main artery of the Yangtze River on its middle and lower reaches and the Dongting, Boyang and Taihu lakes," today's China Daily quoted Vice-Minister of Civil Affairs Fan Baojun as saying.

Extensive relief and rescue efforts were under way in central Hunan and Hubei provinces. The government said Friday that rising flood waters had trapped more than a million people.

In Hunan alone, 5 million soldiers and civilians have been mobilized to repair levees and rescue hundreds of thousands of stranded people, the military's Liberation Army Daily reported.

The Yangtze surged through a neighborhood in Hubei's capital, Wuhan, on Friday, submerging more than 3,000 homes and buildings, the newspaper said. Two thousand soldiers used sandbags to fortify a flood wall in one neighborhood.

In Guangxi, south of Hunan, rivers were running 37 feet above normal, said Roux. He said electricity has been cut, roads washed away and bridges made impassable.

Relief workers managed to get into the central city of Liuzhou but found themselves trapped. They were unable to aid colleagues helping more than 100,000 people devastated by floods in the towns of Sanjiang, Rongshui and Rong'an, said Roux.

"People have sought shelter in surrounding mountains, but have no food, no medicine and no clothes," Roux said. "They were poor but with this flooding they're just trying to survive."

The threat of diarrhea, respiratory ailments, skin diseases and hemorrhagic fever will grow if medicines and clean drinking water do not get to the areas soon, he said.